CU Boulder won’t rescind appointment of conservative scholar who questioned Kamala Harris’s VP eligibility

The University of Colorado Boulder’s chancellor said Monday he will not rescind the appointment of John Eastman following national outcry over the visiting conservative scholar’s essay in Newsweek questioning whether Sen. Kamala Harris is eligible to serve as vice president because her parents were born outside the United States.

The article, published two weeks ago, was met by local and national outcry, including allegations that it floated a conspiracy theory similar to the “birther” fabrications levied against President Barack Obama by Donald Trump and others. It now includes an editor’s note apologizing that the opinion piece is being used to perpetuate racism and xenophobia.

“Even if he did not intend it, Professor Eastman’s op-ed has marginalized members of our CU Boulder community and sown doubts in our commitment to anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion,” Chancellor Phil DiStefano wrote in an email to faculty Monday.

“Without minimizing those harms, and recognizing that we must repair that trust, I must speak to those who have asked whether I will rescind Professor Eastman’s appointment or silence him,” DiStefano wrote. “I will not, for doing so would falsely feed a narrative that our university suppresses speech it does not like and would undermine the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom that make it possible for us to fulfill our mission.”

After reading DiStefano’s email, in which the chancellor said Eastman’s argument for Harris’s potential ineligibility didn’t align with DiStefano’s understanding of the Constitution, Eastman said it seemed that perhaps DiStefano has never read the Constitution.

“That seems to me to be an admission that he has not read the original materials himself, nor the significant amount of scholarship that has come to the same conclusion I have,” Eastman told The Denver Post on Monday. “Pity; he might have learned that there is a serious constitutional dispute here, one that remains unresolved by the Supreme Court.”

The editor’s note that Newsweek attached to Eastman’s article reads: “The essay… was intended to explore a minority legal argument about the definition of who is a ‘natural-born citizen’ in the United States. But to many readers, the essay inevitably conveyed the ugly message that Senator Kamala Harris, a woman of color and the child of immigrants, was somehow not truly American.”

Eastman’s argument is based on the fact that Harris, born in the U.S., was the daughter of parents living in the U.S. on visas. He questions whether Harris’ parents were lawful permanent residents at the time of her birth, or were they “merely temporary visitors.”

According to the 14th Amendment “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens.”

James White, the dean of CU Boulder’s College of Arts and Sciences, also sent an email to faculty Monday that said denouncing Eastman for making an argument about the interpretation of the 14th Amendment was wrong and plays into the hands of those who criticize higher education for being too liberal.

White concluded people were “weaponizing” Eastman’s argument for racist purposes.

“I believe the appropriate action is to call on all of us — including Professor Eastman — to denounce those who use his academic arguments to advance a racist agenda,” White wrote. “Doing so respects his right, and indeed all of our rights, to explore difficult and contentious ideas.”

Eastman said, so far, nobody has been able to point him toward his article being used as material for racists.

The editor’s note on Eastman’s article reads, “All of us at Newsweek are horrified that this op-ed gave rise to a wave of vile Birtherism directed at Senator Harris.”

The day after the essay’s publication, President Trump would not acknowledge that Harris is eligible to serve as vice president.

“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Trump said on Aug. 13. “I have no idea if that’s right. I would have thought, I would have assumed, that the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”

Eastman is a 2020-2021 visiting conservative scholar at CU Boulder’s Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization, intended to bring more conservative thought to a left-leaning campus. The Chapman University law professor will be teaching courses on the history of the law of nations and American political thought.

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